Mercury Fillings Leak After Medical Scan

magnetic resonance imaging

Story at-a-glance -

  • Ultra-high-strength magnetic resonance imaging (7T MRI) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017 may pose a risk to people with mercury fillings
  • Researchers put extracted human teeth with amalgam-filled cavities in a solution of artificial saliva then scanned them in a regular 1.5T MRI or an ultra-high-strength 7T machine for 20 minutes
  • Amalgam fillings leached about four times more mercury after the 7T MRI than after the lower powered 1.5T MRI
  • The levels were so high that the researchers said it could pose a risk not only to the patients but also the nearby medical staff
  • While the ultra-high-strength 7T MRIs are currently primarily used only for research purposes, there’s no guarantee that they won’t find their way into clinical settings

By Dr. Mercola

Ultra-high-strength magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 20171 may pose a risk to people with mercury fillings. Also known as a 7-Tesla, or 7T MRI, they offer better image quality, particularly for visualization of smaller structures and subtle pathologies, than the lower strength 1.5T MRIs found in most hospital settings.

However, the strong magnets and higher magnetic field strength also carry additional risks, including to those with amalgam fillings, which are composed of 50 percent mercury.

Should the powerful MRIs cause the toxic heavy metal to leach out of the filling, it could prove disastrous, as mercury is a known neuro- and reproductive toxin. It’s already known that mercury vapors leak out of fillings in scenarios that are far less intense than getting an ultra-powerful MRI, such as when you chew food or gum, when you brush your teeth and when you grind your teeth2 — so it’s not a stretch that it could also leak out during a powerful medical scan like 7T MRI.

‘Very High’ Levels of Mercury Released After Ultra-High-Strength 7T MRI

Researchers from Akdeniz University in Turkey put extracted human teeth with amalgam-filled cavities in a solution of artificial saliva, then scanned them in a regular 1.5T MRI or an ultra-high-strength 7T machine for 20 minutes. They then measured the saliva’s mercury concentrations, which were found to be significantly elevated: They contained about four times more mercury than the 1.5T group.3

The levels were so high that the researchers said it could pose a risk not only to the patients but also the nearby medical staff. “In our study we found very high values of mercury after ultra-high-field MRI,” said Selmi Yilmaz, a dentist and faculty member at Akdeniz University, in a news release. “This is possibly caused by phase change in amalgam material or by formation of microcircuits, which leads to electrochemical corrosion, induced by the magnetic field.”4

The study didn’t test what health effects could occur from the mercury release, but past research suggests there’s reason for concern. According to the study authors, writing in the journal Radiology:5

“The release of mercury from amalgam fillings occurs through metal ions (mercury ions) and evaporation of mercury (elemental). Various conditions that occur during and after the restoration process, such as chewing, brushing, and corrosion, result in mercury discharge.

Although approximately 40 percent of the mercury released from amalgam passes into the saliva in the form of metal ions and enters the gastrointestinal system (10 percent is absorbed), 60 percent is released as mercury vapor and is either inhaled and enters the circulation in the lungs or is exhaled. It has been suggested that release of mercury into the environment during the application or removal of amalgam may also have some potentially detrimental effects on the body.”

While the ultra-high-strength 7T MRIs are currently primarily used only for research purposes, there’s no guarantee that they won’t find their way into clinical settings — and imagine the ramifications for people with mercury fillings if they did. Yilmaz and colleagues have three additional studies underway looking at how these MRIs affect dental amalgam, but any additional mercury release is something that should be ardently avoided. It’s just one more reason why mercury in dentistry should become a thing of the past.

Banning Mercury in Dentistry: EU Bans Amalgam in Children

The use of mercury in fillings has fallen out of favor with many dentists and informed members of the public, but 100 million amalgams are still placed every year in the U.S. Other countries, including Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany, have taken a much more proactive stance and have banned or restricted the use of the toxic metal in dentistry. Meanwhile, as of July 1, 2018, amalgam use is banned for children under the age of 15 and for pregnant or breastfeeding women in all 28 countries of the European Union (EU).

Next, each country in the EU must submit a plan for how they are going to reduce amalgam use in the remainder of the population. The most vulnerable, the children, are now protected from the dangers of amalgam, but in all reality, amalgam should not be placed in anyone of any age or gender. These plans are due by July 1, 2019, and by then, it’s likely that most countries will opt to phase out amalgam entirely.

As for the U.S. and Canada, now that so many other countries have taken a strong stance to protect the health of children and pregnant/nursing women, the FDA and Health Canada will be pushed to reconsider their stance, which so far has only protected amalgam producers and the profits of pro-mercury dentists. Worldwide, experts are increasingly calling for a ban on mercury amalgam in dentistry.

This includes in Bangladesh, which has signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which mandates that governments take specific steps to reduce use of amalgam. The Minamata Convention took effect in August 2017, which meant countries that have ratified the treaty must take steps to reduce use of mercury amalgam.

In March 2018, the Bangladesh Dental Society also followed in the EU’s footsteps, announcing that amalgam should not be used in children and pregnant or nursing women, with plans to systematically eliminate the toxin from dentistry as a whole.6

Seeing the EU decision as a springboard, Consumers for Dental Choice and the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry have launched a campaign to ban mercury amalgam for every child everywhere. "The next generation of Europe's children are safe from toxic dental mercury," Charlie Brown, president of Consumers for Dental Choice and the umbrella World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, stated.

"We target 2020 as victory year for the world's children," said Brown. "This victory for Europe's children will lead us to for the children of Asia, Africa and America North and South. Amalgam belongs only in museums that feature failed medical strategies."

Why Amalgam Fillings Belong in a Museum

Mercury is a known neurotoxin that is dangerous for everyone but particularly damaging to children, women of childbearing age and breastfeeding infants. It’s also harmful to your kidneys and could pose a serious risk to people with existing kidney disorders.7 There’s no reason to implant this poison into your mouth, as safer alternatives already exist and have for some time.

In a press release, British dentist Graeme Munro-Hall, chair of the Transition and Training task force for the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, described amalgam as “a primitive polluting device” that’s “technically inferior to today’s modern alternatives.”8

One of the most popular alternatives to amalgam is resin composite, which is made of a type of plastic reinforced with powdered glass. It is already common throughout the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, offering notable improvements over amalgam, as, according to Consumers for Dental Choice, it:9

  • Is environmentally safe: Composite, which contains no mercury, does not pollute the environment. This saves taxpayers from paying the costs of cleaning up dental mercury pollution in our water, air and land — and the costs of health problems associated with mercury pollution.
  • Preserves healthy tooth structure, because, unlike amalgam, it does not require the removal of significant amounts of healthy tooth matter. Over the long term, composite preserves healthy tooth structure and actually strengthens teeth, leading to better oral health and less extensive dental work over the long term.
  • Is long-lasting: While some claim that amalgam fillings last longer than composite fillings, the science reveals this claim to be baseless. The latest studies show that composite not only lasts as long as amalgam, but actually has a higher overall survival rate.

A lesser-known alternative is increasingly making mercury-free dentistry possible even in the rural areas of developing countries. Atraumatic restorative treatment (also called alternative restorative treatment or ART) is a mercury-free restorative technique that has been demonstrated a success in a diverse array of countries around the world, including Tanzania, India, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Peru and more.

ART relies on adhesive materials for the filling (instead of mercury) and uses only hand instruments to place the filling, making it particularly well-suited for rural areas of developing countries.

Barriers to Mercury-Free Dentistry Continue

In the U.S. only 32 to 52 percent of dentists are mercury-free. This means it’s up to you to find a mercury-free dentist when choosing a dental provider for yourself and your family. Unfortunately, even if you can find one, there’s a good chance that your dental insurance company may not fully pay for mercury-free dental fillings — another major barrier to people looking to protect their health from this toxic medical practice.

Right now, consumer demand for mercury-free dentistry is primarily held back by insurance companies and other third-party payers who mandate continued amalgam use. It’s time to drive home the message that consumers will no longer tolerate the use of mercury amalgams and will not settle for insurance plans and programs that mandate amalgam use. To participate:

1. Check the details of your dental insurance policy. If it fully pays for amalgam while limiting or denying coverage for mercury-free fillings, register your objections with this easy-to-fill-out online form, which you can then email to your insurance company. Please visit the Consumer for Dental Choice Demand Your Choice page to find additional details and tools to help you take a stand against your insurance company's pro-mercury policies.

2. Next, find another insurance company or plan that pays for mercury-free fillings in all teeth, without exceptions or LEAT clauses.

3. If your current dentist is still using mercury in his or her practice — even if they also offer mercury-free options — seek out a dentist that offers only mercury-free fillings for all patients. And, be sure to inform your dentist about the reason you’re transferring. The reason for this is because dentists who still use amalgam end up using it on people who rarely have any other choice, either because they cannot afford to pay the difference or their state or government program dictates they can only receive mercury.

This unfair practice needs to end, and the quicker we can get all dentists to go 100 percent mercury-free, the sooner these programs will be forced to change. So, selecting a 100 percent mercury-free dentist is an altruistic choice on your part, which will help those whose voices are so often ignored. It will also lead to a safer office environment for the patients and staff.

4. If you have mercury fillings, be sure to consult with a biological dentist who is trained in the safe removal of amalgam.

5. Last but not least, spread the word, and urge your family and friends to challenge their insurance companies' toxic policies and make the switch to a mercury-free dentist as well.